LAO Newsroom

Responses to recent media enquiries

LAO Newsroom

North York Family Law Service Centre

March 5, 2010


Responses to media inquiries about the North York Family Law Service Centre.

Response

I am excited to tell people about the significant changes we are making to improve access and service for clients and value we are creating for taxpayers. I have broken down your email by questions. Your material is in blue followed by my responses.

But members of the family bar say they would like to find out how much LAO has spent on its automated telephone helpline in 120 languages, and I think their question is justified. They see it as an issue of allocation of resources.

Family law certificates make up about 25% of all legal aid certificates issued and LAO has no plans to change the proportional allocation of resources for family services.

In 2008-09 LAO issued 117,169 certificates, or which 30,107 were family certificates, about 25 per cent of all certificates (criminal, family, civil, refugee and immigration) issued. This represents an increase of 4,508 family certificates or close to 18 per cent over 2007-08. In 2008-09, LAO allocated more than $50 million for family certificates, a $4.8 million or 10.5 per cent increase over 2007-08.


Certificates issued by year 2006-07 to 2008-09

Year

Criminal

Family

Immigration and Refugee

Other Civil

Total

2008-09 68,453 30,107 12,706 5,903 117,169
2007-08 64,335 25,599 11,401 5,964 107,299
2006-07 65,784 26,450 11,060 5,807 109,101

Certificates cost by year 2006-07 to 2008-09 (in thousands)

Year

Criminal

Family

Immigration and Refugee

Other Civil

Total

2008-09 $ 102,901 $ 50,755 $ 17,701 $ 6,450 $ 177,807
2007-08 $ 95,758 $ 45,927 $ 14,801 $ 6,114 $ 162,600
2006-07 $ 96,827 $ 49,778 $ 16,472 $ 6,084 $ 169,291


You also inquired about:

Yet on the other hand, services like a telephone hotline which, while it may provide members of the public with information, will not, in the association's view, provide them with the legal advice they require.

Let me be perfectly clear - LAO is not replacing representation by a lawyer with summary advice over the phone.

In line with our legislation LAO recognizes the private bar as the foundation for the provision of legal aid services in the area of family law. The contribution the private bar makes in providing services for our clients is respected and valued.


How much has LAO spent on its automated telephone helpline in 120 languages is it a reallocation of resources?

Sorry - just one further question on that point. I notice the handout entitled "Transforming Client Service Delivery" includes a paragraph that reads: "Delivering a full range of legal aid service over the telephone is a faster, more convenient access point ..."

But you couldn't deliver a full range of legal aid service by phone, could you? What does this sentence really mean?

First of all its not an automated helpline its a telephone based client service centre that is using existing technology, staff and space. Clients get a live representative who can help them access:

  • Summary Family Legal advice for clients so they are better prepared and more informed when they get to court - as opposed to providing them with the same advice on the day they are in court this allows them to properly prepare and ensure they have the right documentation to move their matter forward quicker without further unnecessary delays
  • Applying for a legal aid Ontario, without having to visit an office helps to avoid transportation issues and cost a round trip TTC fare for one adult and two kids $9.00
  • Complete access to services in 120 languages through instant translation on an as needed basis this valuable tool helps to break down linguistic barriers and ensure that clients have access to legal aid services without having to find an interpreter or visit another agency also an important tool for overcoming cultural barriers that may restrict some people access to services
  • Calls are toll-free even from a pay phone and LAO accepts collect calls no cost for clients thousands of access points across Ontario points - no cost to clients.
  • Client calls are answered by LAO representatives working in Legal Aid Ontario locations in communities across Ontario

The platform, upon which our telephone services operate, is another example of LAO investing in new technology to improve our processes and reduce our administrative costs. The platform was put in place in 2008 in conjunction with the relocation of our main provincial office. The new telephone platform is a VOIP system (Voice Over Internet Protocol) that has significantly reduced long distance and administration costs while providing the additional functionality to support enhanced telephone services for clients.

I am also providing some additional information about how LAO is improving services, streamlining administration and some of the benefits to clients. I have also included, at the end of this message, my previous answer to your inquiries about how LAO is funding these improvements by streamlining administration, reducing cost, and reinvesting savings into direct client services.

Legal Aid Ontario, in addition to the existing family certificate program, is:

  • Opening Family Law Service Centres in North York, Toronto Brampton, and Newmarket close to the busiest family courts in Ontario (North York is apparently the busiest) these new centres will provide a range of integrated client services to ensure clients are better prepared when they go into court and are able to begin moving forward with their matter. Services available at the centres include:
    • Immediate assistance for clients with emergency matters, including support, access, and non-removal orders
    • Document preparation assistance
    • Client need assessment to determine the appropriate service for the client, including the early identification of vulnerable clients in serious domestic violence cases and child protection cases;
    • Information about family break-up, family law and the family justice system, and a referral service to agencies (e.g. housing, income support);
    • Applications for Legal Aid certificates
    • Tailored family law services so clients receive the right service at the right time, such as:
      • variation applications for support and simple access issues, and non-complex custody and access applications
      • documentation preparation service for clients who may not be eligible for a certificate
      • referral of non-complex and non-contentious issues to duty counsel for assistance;
      • mediation conference facilitations
      • direct client service by a staff family lawyer for clients unable to retain a private lawyer
  • Expanding family services in communities outside of the GTA including Sarnia and Chatham - Staff lawyers have been hired to provided enhanced family duty counsel services in the courts as well as accept certificates from clients who are unable to find a private bar lawyer to represent them we are hearing informally that it can take clients living in some smaller communities up to three months to find a family lawyer to represent them.
  • Expanding LAO Courthouse Locations - Legal Aid Ontario is establishing locations in 47 courthouses across the province so clients already in court for other matters or other clients who need to, can speak with a legal aid representative in person. Currently, LAO has 33 offices with an additional 14 scheduled to be opened in early spring each year through our duty counsel program, LAO provides close to of a million legal assists to clients in courthouses across the Province providing more services in locations where clients are already going just makes sense.

Additionally, the Attorney General recently announced increasing the hourly fees for criminal, family, immigration and refugee and mental health lawyers by an average of 5 per cent per year for the next seven years.

This is a good news story for low-income people with family law issues and a good news story for taxpayers and this story deserves appropriate coverage.

Legal Aid Ontario is significantly increasing access to services for clients and value for taxpayers.

For more information

For more information please contact:

Kristian Justesen
Manager, Communications and Media Relations
Email: justesk@lao.on.ca